Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Winter School Holidays: 8 ideas to get you out of the house

'It's tempting to hibernate at home on the winter holidays and load up on movies and indoor fun.  But we all tend to go a little stir crazy if don't get out of the house and mix it up, at least I do anyway, so here are some ideas for people on school holidays, particularly those in Melbourne.

Go Geocaching
'Go what?' you say. ‘Geocaching is the free high-tech treasure hunt where you use your GPS receiver to find caches hidden by other players. It's a great way to be outdoors, enjoy the environment and revel in the thrill of the hunt!’  Geocaching is basically a modern-day version of the treasure hunt; someone hides something, provides a few clues online, and other treasure hunters seek out the item.  There are lots hidden around Melbourne and many other places around the world.  In a quick search I found that there are at least 4 hidden caches at my local park!

You can use the GPS on your smart phone or download a specific geocaching app.  You then log onto the geocaching.com, type in your location and a list of nearby caches and their GPS co-ordinates will pop up. The cache is usually in a weatherproof container and consists of inexpensive trinkets which you swap with things you’ve brought along– the thrill is in the find not the prize!
Every cache is rated according to difficulty and it's a good idea to check when it was last found to try to ensure it will still be there when you go looking for it!

Cost:  Free is you own or have access to a smart phone

Suits:  Best for kids who can hold the GPS/phone themselves and direct some of the searching independently.   Just try to pick the right difficulty rating to match their age and seeking ability!

Visit the National Gallery of Victoria

The NGV has two exhibitions showing at the moment that are perfect for kids. Paola Pivi   is an installation of eight brightly coloured polar bears covered in feathers  displayed in various fun poses in the foyer.  
Image from ngv.vic.gov.au

Pastello – Draw Act  is designed as an ‘immersive children’s space’ where ‘children are invited to use their bodies to draw with their heads, feet and of course hands using crayon spheres and other unusual tools’.  Basically kids get to wear helmets and shoes covered in crayons to draw on the walls!  Crayons are used in other varied and unusual ways throughout the room.   MJ is four and he was happily entertained for about 45 minutes with the various drawing activities and apparatus - think crayon pendulums and bowling balls and crayons stuck everywhere around the room. 

image from ngv.vic.gov.au

While you are there, don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the water wall and lie under the glass mosaic roof in the Federation Court. Better still take another adult with you so you can take turns to visit 'The Italian Masters' exhibition while the kids get their draw on.

As an added bonus, you can reply ‘we went to the gallery’ when someone asks what you did on the holidays -oh how cultured you will feel!

Cost: Free (Italian Masters is $26 for an adult ticket)

Suits: Ages 4+ - kids have to be old enough to be okay with not touching the polar bears and they also need to be quite interested in drawing to get the most out of the Pastello exhibition.  They also need to be big enough to fit and control the helmet and shoes crayons.

Take a train, anywhere or nowhere!

MJ loves the train and the ride can be a fun activity in itself or add another adventurous element to a day out.  We took the train into the NGV, my mum takes the grandkids on the train when they go to the movies and my mother-in-law takes MJ on round trips (they get on at her local station, travel three stops, get off the train to buy a food treat and then head back home on the train).

You can make a ‘train spotto’ card to use along the way (e.g. you need to spot a four legged animal, a person wearing a hat, a musical instrument, a red sign, a graffiti picture, a bridge, Australian flag etc).    RACV has some pre-made spotto cards you can print off or you can make your own before you go to help build anticipation!

Cost:  $6 for adult Myki card, $3 for Myki concession card
            $12 daily adult ticket, $6.60 daily concession ticket (ages 4-16), children under three               are free.
            $6.60 two hour adult ticket, $3.30 two hour concession ticket

Suits: Ages 2-5

MJ the homeboy!

Plan a surprise ending to an otherwise boring day

You will inevitably have at least one boring day that consists of lots appointments and running around, requiring you to get your munchkins in and out of the car all day.  Without the kids knowing pack some old clothes, old towels and gumboots in the boot and on the way home stop at a wet, muddy oval (if you are in Melbourne like us, this isn’t hard to do!) 

 Get the kids into the old clothes and if you have young kids, play a game of chasey (tag) through the mud – you are ‘barley’ or untaggable if you are standing in a puddle on one leg.  With older kids play a game of ‘Puddle Soccer’;  you play normal soccer rules, except instead of having two teams and a goal at each end, each child picks a puddle to protect and you score by kicking the ball into someone else’s puddle.   If you have a few kids playing, it works well to use two balls.  

When all the fun has been had, strip the old clothes off, wrap them in old towels and head straight home to a warm shower and hot chocolate.

Mud is always fun - this time it was mud fights while camping at Easter
Cost: Free

Suits: Ages 4+

Exchange a park with a friend

All kids love going to a park and my son would go every day if I’d take him, but I find going to the same parks can get a little boring. So to mix things up a little you could ring a friend that lives in another part of your city and arrange to exchange a park play date.  Offer to pack the lunch and snacks and pick a park to meet your friend on your side of town and the next week your friend can return the favour on their side of the world.

We'd probably take you to our favourite skate park.

Cost:  Picnic lunch

Suits: Ages 2-10' 

Go Spotlighting

Make the most of the early sunset and take your crew spotlighting.  Have dinner and get into warm pyjamas, layer up with coats, beanies, gumboots and load up with torches and headlamps. Head to your local reserve; any space with trees or bushland will be great, even a quite mundane space during the day takes on a different life after dark!  Try to spotlight any local fauna that comes your way!

For younger kids you can theme the outing along the lines of 'We're going on a bear hunt' and you can try to find a teddy bear you've hidden somewhere along the way.  For older kids you can't go past a game of Spotlight Tiggy or 'forty-forty' - I love that game!  

Cost: Free

Suits: Kids that aren't afraid of the dark!  We tried this with MJ when he was nearly 3 and he was a little scared, so I'll say 4+.

Healesville Sanctuary

At the end of last year we purchased an annual zoo pass which entitles you to entry at all three zoos (Healesville Sanctuary, Werribee and Melbourne).  The annual pass is great value if you plan on going a few times throughout the year.  (Teachers take note: you can get it even cheaper by joining as a teacher member which is $50 instead of $93 – too bad I found that out two weeks after we had already joined!!)

The Healesville Sanctuary is running a ‘Winter Wonderland’ program with faux snow, puddle zones and craft activities.  And the Birds of Prey and Platypus shows are always great value.  Even the playground is recently updated and adds extra interest to the day and makes a perfect place to stop and have lunch. 

Cost: $25 adult ticket

Suits: Best for children aged 4+ in terms of participating in the educational activities and maintaining interest in the shows.  Younger children will still enjoy the playground and looking at some of the animals.  

Visit the Yarra Valley Chocolatrie and Yarra Glen Adventure Park

The Yarra Glen AdventurePark is one of our favourite parks. A 60 minute drive from Melbourne, it has a really good range of play equipment and even has a skate park which helps cater for all ages and interests.  It has lots of timber climbing equipment, a sand pit with water pump, large spider web, a massive swing and much more.  It also has heaps of room for BBQ or picnic lunches and parking is never a drama.

Once you've had your fun at the park head five minutes up the road to visit the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.

As soon as you walk in you get free (unlimited!) tastings from massive buckets of white, milk and dark chocolate buttons.  You can watch chocolates getting made and then the kids can run around the small grass maze and play balls games in the orchard while you contemplate what chocolate amazingness you will order from the cafe menu.

Don’t forget to check out the usual suspects:

Your local library will have a holiday program.  Our local Eastern Regional Library runs a program that includes hip hop dancing, author visits, craft activities, cake decorating and musical workshops.  Activities are free or low cost ($6)

Most indoor heated pools will run holiday activities with inflatables and water slides. WaterMarc in Bundoora is particularly good with excellent water slides and water park play. A child entry with waterslide pass costs $12. Adults can pay $3 to supervise or $15 to join in the fun.  

Most shopping centres run holiday entertainment programs and most of them are free. Knox Westfield is running a Viking Workshop linked to How To Train Your Dragon 2; Eastland Shopping Centre has a Winter Wonderland with free ice skating on a synthetic rink.

So tell me, how are you planning on spending the school holidays?

Keep smiling


  1. Such great ideas! That is certainly an alternative selection of kid fun and I have never heard of the first two - my kids would LOVE those suggestions! Healesville is just up the road from me and the Chocolaterie is a small drive away.

    1. Thanks Jody. We must live in the same neck of the woods, I live in Mount Evelyn and so am quite close to those place as well. I'm hoping the weather improves on today so we can actually get out to some places next week!

  2. HAHA... love melbourne. we didn't double up at all :) x

    1. I wonder if we all combined our collective wisdom, how big our list could be? Enough to fill the school holidays many time over I suspect! Enjoy the holidays.

  3. Great timing with the school holidays a coming. I love the spotlighting one. All kids love torches. I remember even my own children as Teens and older playing a game at night and trying to keep out of view of the roving torch. There were lots of tackles ....good healthy fun
    Alexa from Sydney, Australia

    1. Torches are always a winner, my mum bought all the kids head lamps for camping at Easter and they loved them. Did you try to hide in the dark with the boy you had a crush on or was that just me...?

  4. Great list and suggestions. I love the Geo... whatever it's called. Very new age. My little darling is only 12 months but these are all handy activities to keep in mind for later :)


    1. Thanks Maria. Yes they are a little more easily entertained at 12 months, a box, a park and some bubbles and you are set!

  5. I forgot about spotlighting! Good times. My kids aren't at school yet, so the holidays are just another day for us. I do plan to take them on a train trip sometime soon though. Great ideas!

    1. Enjoy the train trip. My husband is a teacher so we always get the holiday feeling even when MJ was young or if we aren't doing anything which is quite nice.

  6. How old do you think the kids have to be for Geocaching? I'm hanging to do this with my older two? I love the train one, I must remember that. :)

    1. Hi Emily, if the oldest is in Grade 1 or 2 you should be okay. They should be able to use the GPS and keep the younger ones interested and on track. It would be great if you could borrow a second phone and then keep track yourself and just gently keep them on target if they veer off. Start the hunt from your house and let your younger one hold the GPS in the car on the way. They can call out random instructions and yet you'll still be heading in the right direction, then the older ones can take over when you get closer. Good luck, I'd love to hear how you go!

  7. Great tips! I'm planning to do as many free activities as I can these holidays. I just have to work out what there is to do around here. :)

    1. Thanks Jess. I'm tipping winter holidays in Adelaide will be a little different to winter holidays in Darwin!! Hope you find some fund things to do :)

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